With the phenomenon that has been labeled as The Great Resignation, causing so many people to stop working during and after the pandemic, either out of fear, a push into early retirement, or a change in priorities after stay-at-home orders, there are a copious number of open positions available to be filled. With the number of individuals who lost their jobs during this span of time and the unemployment rate at an extreme high, why then are we faced with a significant labor shortage? Why aren’t these positions being filled? The answer lies within a variety of factors all contributing to a concerning Demographic Drought, also being referred to as “The Sansdemic-too much work, too little people.”
If we look at our labor force pre-COVID-19 and compare it to where we are today, some conclusions can be drawn on what to expect tomorrow. With contributing statistics on population, education, and child replacement rate, it is clear that some steps need to be taken to get us back to where we once were and continue to help our economy thrive.
Before the pandemic, the Baby Boomer Generation (born 1946-1964), drove the labor force to a new level. A massive population of women was entering higher education, the workforce, and REAL median household incomes skyrocketed to a place they had never been. In 1955, the median household income was $5,000. By 1975, this number jumped to $14,000 and as of 1995, this number was $56,000 (Source: US Census Bureau 2021). Not only did this generation change the way we see women in the workplace, but they also encouraged their youth to pursue higher education, resulting in a continuous climb of college enrollment and graduation. Drive, determination, and a personal need for success coursed through the veins of society. Baby Boomers established generous means to retire, and we started to see them ease into retirement around 2002.
The labor force experienced another change around 2016, as the Boomers exited and the Millennials entered. We observed a drop in labor force participation and saw an uptick in people choosing not to work, the beginning of the demographic drought. More people were choosing part-time positions because they wanted to, not because they had to. Flexibility was offered through the “gig economy” and more people found this to be a viable option at this time, the unemployment rate was at a record low, and suddenly, an unfamiliar virus made its way into our world, changing the labor force for the foreseeable future. We were headed toward a labor shortage BEFORE the pandemic. The pandemic was a catalyst, not the cause.
When we examine our labor force today, the participation rate has not changed in a year. Unemployment has plunged, and the job openings increased from 7 million (pre-COVID-19) to 10 million (post-COVID-19) source: BLS.
Why aren’t these openings getting filled?
One problem is that the United States is a highly educated nation and those who have a lower completion of education are not participating actively in the labor force. According to BLS, JOLT, and Internal Analysis, there are roughly 6 million jobs open that do not require a college degree, but only 3.39 million individuals without college degrees are unemployed. On the other end of the spectrum, there are around 3.2 million jobs open that require higher education and 4.21 million individuals in that arena looking. This unbalance is impacting the open positions and who can and will fill them. Historically, when this issue arises, immigration fills the gap in the labor force. However, with the pandemic, immigration has ceased, and this issue is not only affecting the United States, but also the rest of the world, causing the demographic drought to spread to other countries as well.
In addition to the education vs employability mismatch, there are 5 additional factors affecting the demographic drought and our struggling labor force:
- Temporary shutdowns – When Covid-19 hit, a lot of employees were not laid off, but furloughed causing them to “wait it out” and not actively look for another source of income.
- Government assistance – The aid that was provided during the height of the pandemic has lowered the need to find work and the want to re-engage within the workforce.
- Massive retirements – The stock market boom and the fear of returning to the workplace have influenced a lot of people to begin early retirement.
- Adapting to life at home – After getting a taste of what it means to be at home and focus on other priorities in life, this has decreased the urgency to get a source of income or a position that takes you away from the comfort of home.
- The opioid epidemic – affecting the “prime-age males” mostly, the opioid and drug epidemic has lowered the employment numbers due to overdose or addiction, causing one to be unable to sustain a position.
Survey Says! (source: US Chamber of Commerce Survey)
After the Government aid has subsided, the question was asked; “Will people return to the workforce?” Of the 9.3 million people who lost their jobs:
13% or 1.2 million will not be coming back
17% or 1.6 million will not be coming back in 2021
38% or 3.5 million plan to come back, but are not actively looking
32% or 3 million are actively looking to get back into the workforce
Predicting the future is not sound science, but when we examine statistics, the future of the labor force will continue to be a challenge. The United States has been experiencing a decline in the birth rate since the early 70s, with the trend increasing each year. According to The Demographic Drought, 2020 resulted in the lowest birth rate ever, contrary to widespread belief. Women feared being in the hospital and being in direct range of COVID-19, and therefore chose not to reproduce. If we have fewer children coming into the world and a hold on immigration, we have no one to fill the gaps within the labor force.
What Businesses Can Do
There are short-term things that can be done to help turn the labor force around, and it starts within your company:
- Wage increases
- Scale back on job requirements for open positions and improve training
- Offer non-wage incentives such as flexibility, better retirement match, discounts, tuition reimbursement, and more (think creatively about your audience!)
- DEMONSTRATE COMMITMENT TO AND VALUE YOUR EMPLOYEES!
Long-term, processes need to change within organizations to boost employment:
- Staffing issues often reside with the HR department, when everyone up to the board room should be involved. Executives need to recognize the issue and brainstorm ideas on getting new talent in and keeping them.
- Create career paths for your best employees. Promote, appreciate, and excel them to keep them engaged.
- Provide your key leaders the tools they need to motivate, engage and lead their teams in today’s environment.
- Reskill and upskill your team members.
- Think creatively about workforce mobility,
- Combine processes and remove practices that are not needed to make your organization more “lean” rather than putting more work on already loaded team members.
- Utilize institutions. Partner with Colleges, High Schools, Trade Schools, and Prisons to find talent. Communicate what and who you need and work together to get people placed in the right position.
As a Career and Talent Strategist team, Croswoks can help your business provide leaders the skills to reduce stress and engage the workforce and we offer programs to assist in retaining your labor force. Additionally, we can provide guidance and tools to assist individuals in finding their place within the workforce to help sustain and grow the market. Our team of specialists has unique qualifications and experience in helping executives, organizations, and individuals. If we work together, we can recover from the impact of the pandemic and start to regain and build our demographic in this employment drought. Contact us today for a free consultation.